Our brief afternoon in Venice included a gondola ride because, well, we were there and that's what people do. A few hundred years ago there were literally thousands of gondolas operating in Venice, today there are only several hundred, with just a handful privately owned. Operating a gondola requires a permit that is granted after years of training, apprenticeship programs, and formal testing, and is often passed down from one generation to the next within a family .
Before we arrived, I thought each gondola would be an artistic visual delight, perhaps reflecting the personality of the gondolier or the owner but, no, they are all remarkably the same. All are painted black, both a tradition and a law, and share the same design built from 280 pieces of wood of seven different types. It is propelled by an oar, not by a pole as you might have seen in every Venetian gondola parody ever written. The waters of the Venice canals are so deep, there isn't a pole long enough to do the job. The goldolier stands on the very back of the boat, steering with the magic strokes of the oar that keep it gliding along, and he never forgets to duck when he goes under the footbridges. (OK, maybe SOME of them forgot once, but never again.) They banter back and forth with the other gondoliers in rapid Italian, because you are never more than a few yards away from another gondola, discussing the weather, the soccer match, and the fashion mistakes of the passengers.
The gondoliers are also oblivious to your fears about tipping over. There were 5 people in our little boat, and every time someone shifted to take a photo or get into a more comfortable position, the rest of us held on for dear life, certain that we or our cameras, glasses, hats and totes were goners for sure. Once we got our gondola legs, however, we relaxed and began to have tourist fun, waving and calling to the pedestrians going over the bridges we were passing under, and hurling the traditional "eh, paison!" to the second gondola holding the rest of our group as we took turns passing each other. We saw all sorts of intriguing passageways, back doors of buildings whose fronts we would never know on this visit. Shown here are a few photos taken along the way.
After the gondola, we were off to see the Doge's Palace, the quintessential Venetian structure where nearly every surface is embellished but in a lovely, highly decorative way. We were not allowed to photograph inside the building, although I did sneak in a photo while crossing the famous Bridge of Sighs from the inside view. Housed inside the palace are some of the largest paintings you will ever see, all magnificent, very ornate, laden with symbolism and religious meaning, looking just as they did in the slides from your Art History class. The Doge and his posse had a system for routing out the sinners or thieves in their midst: a mail drop where any citizen could write out the complaint and post it anonymously to them, and they would take it from there. The stone face above is the repository for these deadly missives. Gee, do you think someone might have ever used this great system for evil?
We went to a glass blowing demonstration held at one of the hundreds of blown glass galleries and shops located in Venice; the shop owners invited us to stroll around after the demo and then discreetly kept turning off the lights behind us as we walked to the next room. It was nearly 6 pm on Sunday and they were so ready to be done with us. So, no glass purchases here; in fact, no glass purchases this day anywhere, because the shops really DO close at 6. Time to say good-bye.